g r o t t o 1 1

Peeve Farm
Breeding peeves for show, not just to keep as pets
Brian Tiemann
Silicon ValleyNew York-based purveyor of a confusing mixture of Apple punditry, political bile, and sports car rentals.

btman at grotto11 dot com

Read These Too:

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James Lileks
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As the Apple Turns
Entropicana
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Capitalist Lion
Red Letter Day
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Corsair the Rational Pirate
.clue
Ravishing Light
Rosenblog
Cartago Delenda Est



Cars without compromise.





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12/17/2001 - 12/23/2001
Sunday, November 19, 2006
12:34 - Such a nice boy

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Hee. Looks like Christopher Hitchens had pretty much the same reaction to Borat that I did.

Incidentally, it strikes me that there's an inherent shelf life to a schtick such as Borat, or any of its guerrilla-comedy forebears like Dave Attell's "Insomniac": if it gets too popular, well, suddenly you find yourself running into more people who react to you by saying "Hey, I saw you on Comedy Central!" than who give you any good usable material. Attell had to keep moving on to more and more obscure and far-flung locales to keep people from recognizing him, but eventually he just became too well-known for the series to continue. I'm pretty sure the "Borat" phenomenon is just about to have the same thing happen: it's so successful it kills itself.

Friday, November 17, 2006
13:07 - Life under a rock

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It's true, I haven't exactly been paying attention to any of the iPhone rumors that have evidently been flying fast and furious lately. Mostly that's attributable to the fact that anything with the word "phone" in it switches me right off—to me, mobile phones are a squalid, tawdry phenomenon unworthy of Apple's attention. Every time I see a line of teenage girls flouncing through a mall, clearly all part of the same group of friends but each one with a phone to her head, each one deep into her own private conversation; not to mention every time I'm in the movie theater and someone's phone chirps to life with a harshly digitized version of some hackneyed quote from a completely different movie—I think to myself, "God, I hope I don't ever have to fume at Apple for contributing to this."

But if what I'm hearing is true—that the iPhone is not meant to be a PDA like the Treo, but rather just "an iPod with a phone"—then I have to imagine that the real purpose of such a product isn't the "phone" part after all. Like one of those insufferable cellphone companies' ads says, "it's the network".

In other words, the phone is just incidental. If an iPod were to gain EVDO wireless access, it would be able to do all the music-purchasing-and-downloading that more and more phones seem able to do these days; and what's more, it would then be able to sync those songs back into iTunes, where you could make playlists and burn CDs, something that I presume cellphones can't do (if the music-syncing software that Cingular is selling for $50 is any indication). It would make the iPod into a potential source for your iTunes music, not just a receptacle for it.

And wouldn't that just knock the Zune into a cocked hat?

Rather than having to seek out another iPod user with beaming capabilities (something that's far more likely to happen than with the Zune, at any rate—you want to see the "social" that Microsoft covets, go to the gym and count the white earbuds), you could just get the songs you want right from the iTunes Store, no matter where you are. Hell, you could even beam them to each other Zune-style—but since every iPhone would be hooked into the iTunes Store, you might as well just beam each other download queue requests so you could get the 30-second previews for free and then buy the full songs right from the phone. You wouldn't even have to be within Wi-Fi range of the other guy. In other words, you wouldn't need a "social". If the Zune's "social" only exists because the people in it hope to get each other's music out of the deal, it seems like it's on shaky conceptual ground to begin with (how do you go up to the tank-topped guy on the ab machine and say, "Uh, hey—want to squirt me a song?"); but if anybody can get any music at any time, not just what the people around them have handy, then they can be "social" based on actual shared interests, not just musical avarice.

Not to mention being able to download TV shows and movies from the road or the treadmill, and then keep them on your computer after you sync. Fresh podcast episodes. Audiobooks. Games. Best of all, you wouldn't need to muck with the controls; this could all happen within the click-wheel paradigm—no keypad or stylus or slide-out panel or anything needed.

Oh, and you can make phone calls with it too? Hey, bonus. But why even bother calling it an "iPhone" anyway? Why shouldn't this just be the next iPod?

Thursday, November 16, 2006
08:53 - The Landscape of Dorian Gray
http://www.engadget.com/2006/11/15/zune-review/

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Someone in the comments of this Engadget review of the Zune sort of inadvertently brought up an interesting point, when saying that compared side-by-side, the Zune's screen looks like it makes better use of space:



Just that comparason of the front sides of both Zune and Ipod, the ipod looks realy horrible, with its small screen and large wasted space for the click wheel.

It's an interesting point in that when placed up against the Zune, the iPod does look like its design is a waste of available space. But key to understanding why it's laid out the way it is is realizing that Apple declined to go the variable-orientation route that Microsoft has chosen.

In an absolute sense, the Zune's variable orientation does make for a more flexible viewing experience; though the screen resolution is the same as on the iPod, you do get to view your videos on a larger piece of LCD, and that's got real value. But Engadget discovered some of the drawbacks of this decision, such as that the compass points of the directional control button can't be labeled, because their functions change depending on how you've got it rotated. Furthermore, the Back and Play/Pause buttons—which they couldn't get away with not labeling—have to be used sideways if you're in landscape mode. Also, I'm not sure which way is up: are the controls on the left or on the right? (Though I'm sure that would be plenty obvious after a little bit of usage.) And having to switch orientations depending on what you're doing is just a plain old distraction, something people don't necessarily want to have to deal with in casual usage. Still, it's a real plus that the Zune seems to make much more efficient use of its available space, fitting a screen that's that much bigger into a package that's not really much larger than the iPod's.

Apple decided not to go the variable-orientation route a long time ago, though; and I can see why. It simplifies packaging, software, and presentation. You never have to wonder which way is up or what the buttons do. Instead of making you turn the screen vertically to scroll through long lists, and then horizontally to watch widescreen videos, it makes a compromise that sacrifices absolute screen size in favor of navigability and a generally TV-shaped screen like we're all used to.

But I also think it's a decision dictated by the scroll wheel itself: it has to be a certain size in order to be efficiently manipulated with your thumb. The wheel on the nano is a bit smaller than on the full-size iPod, but it's still bigger than the D-button on the Zune. And that's what suggests what must have been a proposal that crossed someone's desk at Apple:



And that's just not a very handy shape to stick in your pocket.

The Zune is just about the same width as the iPod, but it opts to turn the screen vertically, to take better advantage of its rectangular shape and smaller controls. In other words, it's exactly the layout that an iPod would have had if Apple had decided to use variable orientation. The difference is that because the iPod's scroll wheel is inherently larger than the Zune's buttons—and all self-contained in a circular package, to boot, so it can't be broken out to fit better into the available space—the packaging options are limited in a way that the Zune's aren't. One might fairly call this a limitation of the iPod's design, true: you can't dictate ease-of-use by beating someone over the head with explanations and rationalizations. But there's also real value in Apple's keeping to the scroll wheel paradigm; it is, after all, their trademark, even if it's not an objectively better interface. If they went to Dell-style or Zen-style or Zune-style controls, they'd lose a significant measure of "iPod-ness", every bit as integral to the thing's iconic nature as the functionally useless but visually endearing pieces of flair on the front ends of Audis or the C-pillars of BMWs. (Buick "portholes", anyone?)

It also explains why people are waiting so eagerly for the fabled "True Video iPod", the one with the screen that's supposed to cover the entire rectangular face of the device and feature an integrated touch-screen that fades a software version of the scroll wheel into view when you touch it. On paper, it seems the ideal solution. The fact that it would necessarily eschew buttons that go "click" when you push them, and would pick up fingerprints and annoying scratches all the more easily, and would require some extra non-software way to poke the thing if it locked up and you had to reboot it, makes me skeptical that this is at all the solution Apple has in mind, though.

But one thing's for sure: they've got something in the works, and having waited this long for Microsoft to tip its hand, they don't have to rush to get the 6G iPod out in time for Christmas: they can take their time making it awesome, as befits the first iPod in history whose design is driven by genuine competitive pressure.

I'm totally looking forward to it.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006
10:49 - "Hi, I'm an American." "And I'm a Canadian."
http://www.filibustercartoons.com/archive.php?id=20061115

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Hey, this is pretty funny. Certainly more so than the "Switch to Canada" thing from a few years ago...

Via Steven Den Beste.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006
17:01 - Zuneland Fun Bucks
http://www.engadget.com/2006/11/13/installing-the-zune-sucked/

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This along with a bunch of other Zune links via Daring Fireball. Engadget's screenshot-heavy installation walkthrough is definitely the most visual, though (well, aside from the hilarious CNN footage).

The comments are great:

Bill and team, all you had to do was copy apple. At least people could say it worked. You'd do much better with a product that worked, even if you ripped off-borrowed some ideas.

And this—and this—is what they did instead. Unbelievable.

You could almost do an authoritative document of "How Microsoft Fails to Get It" just from the Zune installer alone. Look at some of the names they suggest for you to use as your "Zune tag": "PricyRacketeer"? "GutlessStudent"? Gee, sign me the hell up. Can you even imagine Apple doing something like that? Can you even picture such a thing as artlessly computer-generated suggestions for gamer names appearing in their interface? It just defies the imagination. And yet apparently it's only a mild eyebrow-raiser in the Microsoft dimension.

But what really makes me slump and shake my shoulders in sympathetic heaves of silent laughter is the "point" system. As another DF post quotes James R. Stoup:

Of course, you could just spend all of your points each time you buy music, but would require you to purchase songs in multiples of 31,600 points (that being the LCM of 79 and 400). That works out to 400 songs for $395. A better plan would be to buy 5 songs for 395 points (or $4.94) and just save your 5 remaining points for some future purchase. In effect, Microsoft has created a store that only accepts gift cards as the valid method of payments. And if you don’t think that’s insane then you obviously already have pre-ordered your Zune.

Yeah, Or you could, you know, go to iTunes and buy music with dollars. Does Microsoft think people will be approaching the Zune "social" like a video arcade? The token system only makes sense if you don't trust your customers to spend their money within your store, and/or you want so badly to harvest the profit from their unused balances that you'll build your whole system around the gym-membership model of collecting fees on customers' laziness. Gift certificates are one thing, but using it as the primary method for buying your own music? Gimme a break.

What amazes me, though, is that people will still put up with this—and will trash Apple for much slighter transgressions upon one's consumer liberties. You'll have people sneering at the lemming-like iPod users' white earbuds and Mac OS X's candy-colored window controls, who will then turn around and happily name themselves "HangingCheetah" or "ScapularWorm" on Microsoft's say-so. Apple can fight the record labels for flat pricing and increased mobility under the download-to-own DRM scheme that created the digital music explosion after many false starts and before a lot of others, and people will still chafe and whine about the New Evil Monopoly, apparently just itching for the chance to go tapping on shoulders in Starbucks to trade songs with other Zune users, which they can then buy with their company scrip. Boy, what a deal.

Now, that's not to say that I think there are that many people out there who think Microsoft can do no wrong, even in the face of such overwhelming evidence to the contrary. It's just that if even 1% of their users do, that's a hell of a lot more Microsoft fanboys than even the most generous estimates of the Apple zealot population. We've enjoyed a Golden Age for the past five years, when the company in charge of defining the vocabulary of hip pop culture has actually been one of the ones that actually is capable of making a meaningful and deftly executed conribution to the world, without insulting the people who comprise that culture or treating them like cattle shuffling through the profit gate. Now there's a new bully on the block, with its new and far clumsier dialect—and just by sheer dint of mass it'll change the tilt of the playing field. We may be seeing the beginning of the end no matter how badly the Zune manages to suck in its initial outing, because whether it's a hit or a flop, people are suddenly going to be reminded again that Apple isn't the "default" choice: they're Apple, the guys you don't want to be seen with in polite company.

Then again, the next iPod announcements might be so much further along the track that we'll all have to thank Microsoft for providing some much-needed competitive pressure. Which is probably a lot more likely.

Thanks for playing, Microsoft. Everyone in this room is now dumber for having listened to you. I award you no points, and may God have mercy on your soul.


09:36 - Happy Veterans' Day, Simpsons Fans
http://hotair.com/archives/2006/11/12/video-the-simpsons-salute-the-lazy-and-uneduca

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Hey, remember when The Simpsons used to feature subjects like how prayer in public schools wasn't the worst thing that could possibly happen (compared to having Flanders as principal) and a sitting President was depicted saying things like "This oughtta please my bosses... all 250 million of them"?

That was expensive humor. Prices have fallen lately.

Monday, November 13, 2006
13:41 - OMG LOLZ
http://www.flickr.com/photos/goopymart/sets/72157594362502502/

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This is the best thing since Flame Warriors.

Via Chris.

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